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***SPOILERS*** Lame predecessor to the much more entertaining and
unintentionally funny "Reefer Madness" or "Tell Your Children" the film
"Assassin of Youth" was released a year earlier in 1937 about the
perils of that dangerous narcotic and scourge of all mankind that evil
plant Marijuana and how it effects Americas youth that are getting
addicted to it by the hundreds if not thousands as we speak.
After Elizabeth Barrie is killed by a runaway car driven a a pot-smoking teenager young reporter Artie Brighton, Arthur Gardner, is sent to the town where Mrs. Barrie was killed as an undercover reporter. Posing as a soda jerk at the local teenage hangout to get the big scoop on what's going on in town Artie gets close to many of the teenagers in town who have pot parties at night on the beach and at their homes and in many cases joining in but secretly not smoking the stink-weed.
Mrs. Barrie left her fortune to her granddaughter Joan, Luana Walters, under the condition that she lives a moral and just life. It's the moral clause that she, Mrs. Barrie, put in her will that got both Linda Clyton, Fay McKenzie, and her boyfriend or her secretly married husband Jack Howard, Michael Owens, who are both next in line to get Mrs. Barrie's money, to try to get Joan to get a little crazy in public on pot and alcohol and thus lose the inheritance.
Tired plot with Linda and Jack trying to corrupt sweet and innocent Joan by getting her both drunk and stoned only to have her, with the help of Artie, stay clean and sober. It's in fact Joan's little sister Margie, Dorothy Short, who gets hooked on the weed and ends up almost murdering a friend of hers when she caught her together smooching with her boyfriend at a pot party Later in the movie. Margie fell into a coma that left her on the brink of death due to the evil scourge of Marijuana that she was effected by.
Trying to finally get Joan stoned in order to lose her inheritance the two, Linda & Jack, plant some pot in her spongecake at a party that gets her not only smashed but hot and horny as well. Jack seeing his big chance takes off with Joan to a hotel to get involved with her in some very heavy extra-curricular activities. This tryst with Joan has Jack's jealous and outraged girlfriend Linda tip the cops off on where they are and that Jack was having sex, or was in the same hotel room, with an underage female Joan.
On trial for her honor and morals Joan is saved by Artie coming to her rescue in the courtroom just in the nick of time. Artie lets the truth out in exposing Linda and Jack's attempt to discredit Joan as well as their drug-pushing cohort Jack Ingram as the real villains in this tawdry story.
Somewhat more accurate then "Reefer Madness" about Marijuana but nowhere as entertaining even though it did have some bits of comedy in it. There's the local town tattletale Miss. Frisbie, Fern Emmett, and old Pop Brady, Earl Dwire, a local buffoon who knew where all the bodies in the town were buried dating back to 1900 who were more or less in the film for comic relief.
A mildly laughable anti-marijuana picture, ASSASSIN OF YOUTH has some
things going for it. The cast of ASSASSIN OF YOUTH is solidly capable
for a roadshow production, and several actors have opportunities to
shine in comic roles (in particular, the judge, the old checker-playing
codger and the Margaret Hamilton "wicked witch" look-alike). Luana
Walters is an appealing heroine, and a talented actress. (Her biography
at IMDb suggests that Luana might have been better off with marijuana
as her drug of choice.)
Today the old drug-scare films are played for laughs, but ASSASSIN OF YOUTH is an exceptionally competent production. The irony here is that truly terrible dope-soaps like REEFER MADNESS and MARIHUANA are much more entertaining, because they don't waste time with dramatic niceties.
The most notorious anti-drug movies of the 1930s were made by private entrepreneurs like Dwain Esper and Elmer Clifton, not by the U.S. Government. These gentlemen capitalized on the Government's anti-drug publicity, but they were not bound by any political agenda of the day. Their aim was to supply the public what the Hollywood studios could not provide under the Production Code - flashes of T&A, and graphic depictions of vice.
One does not view poverty row pictures and road show exploitation flicks with the expectation of witnessing fine acting, directing or writing--after all, that's the charm. The relative inexperience or stiffness of performances allows the modern movie-goer to concentrate on the dated situations and propaganda--both of which offer a clearer window to the cultural mores of the era than acknowledged works of classic cinema: pop culture has always been more visceral than what we choose to elevate as high art. This film is enjoyable on several levels--as a societal time machine, a "campy" exploitation flick, and even as a basic B movie romance/courtroom drama! Quirky details abound--the town gossip bears a striking resemblance in face and deed to Margaret Hamilton's "Miss Gulch", for example, though she rides a scooter instead of a bicycle/broom! And of course, the drug references to insanity-inducing marijuana go a long way in explaining why the tobacco industry has had such a long stranglehold on American lungs... Watch "Assassin of Youth"--you'll triple your entertainment without the use of mood enhancers!
I liked this movie. I see it more as a soap opera than as an anti-marijuana film -- the plot about the battling cousins and the secret marriage is solid soap opera fare. A highlight for me was seeing Fern Emmett on a motor scooter! WOW! A lot of folks call her "that Margaret Hamilton looking lady" -- and the two women are similar in appearance, without a doubt -- but Emmett has her own odd way about her, and the repeated scenes of her scootering down main street and spreading gossip were hilarious. Also fun was Western actor Earl Dwire as Pop Hardy, playing checkers. Quite a character! Best of all, the comic bits had a plot-worthy pay-off, too, for in the end it became obvious that many of the older folks in the small town had themselves made juvenile errors of judgement -- so the fact that "today's" youth were going astray with drugs was nicely undercut by the revelations about the oldsters' own young years.
Blonde bombshell, Fay McKenzie, steals the picture from the others as the evil, conniving, immoral Jezebel who heads a marijuana ring. Fay is a really delightful minx who doesn't try to gain any sympathy as she leads brainless bimbo, Luana Walters, down the paths of unrighteousness. Everyone seems to pick on poor Luana. She's the heiress to a small fortune, only, if she comports herself in a clean and moral way. Then there's another sub-story of a reporter who infiltrates this drug crazed group of swingers and wouldn't you know it, but he also gets Luana into deep trouble. The great fun of watching these long forgotten roadshow movies--where the movie owners would rent a theater in towns to show them--is wondering whatever happened to the cast and crew. This movie has some good location and indoor shooting. You watch the young performers doing the latest hot dance step which consists of much hip shaking and head jerking. Whatever happened to Fay McKenzie? She had an honest sparkle of talent and looked great in her l936 fashions. I'm adding this little gem to my permanent DVD library.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this film under the title "The Marijuana Menace", and like that
other period film about the 'dreaded weed' - "Reefer Madness", this one
purports to be an instructional film about the evils of drugs and the
consequences they lead to. I found this to be somewhat more titillating
than it's counterpart, with a livelier bunch of partying teenagers. The
opening sequence offers stern warnings about the use of marijuana with
such newspaper headlines as 'Marijuana Crazed Youth Kills' and
'Marijuana Deals Death'. It would be great to hear commentary from
someone who saw one of these films back when it was made to understand
if the one sided nature of these pictures actually had an influence on
anyone. They seem awfully camp today and it wouldn't surprise me if
they were similarly dismissed by most folks back in the day.
Apart from the drug theme, I got a kick out of how newspaper reporter Art Brighton (Arthur Gardner) simply walked into a confectionery shop and hired himself as a soda jerk on the spot. Then there's the favorite everyone seems to respond to on this board, Fern Emmett as the town gossip who just can't quit. I've only seen her in one other picture, 1943's "Dead Men Walk", and wouldn't you know it, she was the local busy body in that one too! That scooter complemented her character rather nicely, don't you think.
As for the main character Joan Barry (Luana Walters), could they have made her any more ditzy? She kept falling into every trap set for her by scheming cousin Linda (Fay McKenzie); I don't think she needed to puff on anything to get in trouble. At one point, trying to be hip, she exclaims "I have the name, so I'll play the game. Let's make a wild one!... Now what do I do?" Oh brother.
Fans of this type of stuff should be on the look out for the four disc/twenty film DVD pack from Mill Creek Entertainment at a price that makes it a super bargain, especially since it collects a bunch of drug titles under the heading of 'Cult Classics'. They include the aforementioned "Reefer Madness' along with other era films with titles like "Marihuana" and "Cocaine Fiends".
Assassin of Youth (1937)
* 1/2 (out of 4)
Another "warning" picture tells us the horrors of marijuana. In the film various teens are losing their minds, killing others or killing themselves all because they take a hit of the evil weed. Soon a reporter goes undercover as a soda jerk to try and get to the bottom of this evil drug that is causing people to lose their minds with a single puff. Obviously this film falls into the same category as REEFER MADNESS but this here doesn't come close to the "class" of that picture. It's weird reviewing these movies because more often than not the worse they are the more entertaining they are. ASSASSIN OF YOUTH is certainly better "made" than REEFER MADNESS but sadly it's a tad bit too straight and never goes so over-the-top to the point where you can actually laugh at it. There's nothing here so crazy that you'll be rolling on the floor laughing so sadly the entertainment value isn't quite as high (no pun intended) as you'd hope for. With that said, if you're a fan of these types of movies then you'll certainly want to check it out as we're treated with all sorts of really bad information on weed and how one little puff can make you want to blow your head off or even worse....make you want to get naked. Yes, there's a sequence here where pot makes you want to go nude. God knows no one wanted to be naked before pot came along. The performances are pretty much what you'd expect from a picture like this but, then again, they are slightly better than you normally see. ASSASSIN OF YOUTH is going to appeal to a limited number of people but if you're throwing a party and looking for the laughs then REEFER MADNESS is still the way to go.
This is a bad movie that purports to be an educational film designed to
warn America about the menace of marijuana use. However, like almost
all the so-called "educational" films of the 30s and 40s, it was really
a shabby little film designed to be snuck past the censors of the Hays
Office. In 1934, the major studios all agreed to abide by the dictates
of a stronger Production Code--eliminating sex, nudity, cursing and
"inappropriate" plots in films (these had actually been relatively
common in films in the early 30s). However, in an effort to sneak in
smut, small studios created films to shock adults when they learn about
terrible social ills, though they were REALLY intended to titillate and
slip adult themes past the censors! Such films as CHILD BRIDE, MAD
YOUTH, REEFER MADNESS and SEX MADNESS were all schlocky trash that
skirted past the boards because they were supposedly educational. Even
though they were laughably bad, they also made money due to low
production costs and because they offered nudity, violence and sordid
story lines--all in the name of education!
ASSASSIN OF YOUTH is a bit more watchable and entertaining than the average grade-z expoitational film. While it DOES feature a brief glimpse of nudity and plenty of over-the-top scenes, it also occasionally actually has some decent acting (I love the old man who owns the soda fountain--he's great) and writing that make it rise slightly above the rest of the films of the genre--particularly towards the end.
It's the story of two sisters--one is wild and the other just really stupid. The really stupid one is the heir to her grandmother's will and she stands to inherit a lot of money--provided she stays out of trouble and is a "nice girl". If not, then the local drug-dealing skank (her cousin) will inherit it because no one knows that this blonde floozy is evil. So it's up to this rotten cousin to do everything she can to destroy the stupid lady's reputation. First, when the stupid lady falls in the lake (thus allowing the audience a cheap thrill when she flashes her boobs), the bad cousin pushes the stupid girl's clothes into the fire (where the had been drying). As a result, she had to go home in only a coat. Second, on two separate occasions, the cousin slips her drugs and makes everyone in town think she's an addicted slut. However, when a nice reporter gets involved, he is able to rush in and save the day at the end--convincing everyone that the lady is only a dim-wit, not a slut or drug user!!
So let's talk about the bad--because after all, that's why people today would approach this film--wanting to see and laugh at the bad. There is a very prudish character who at first glimpse looks a lot like Margaret Hamilton from THE WIZARD OF OZ. Again and again, they show the exact scene of this old biddy on her motor scooter and it's super-reminiscent of the scene of Hamilton riding her bike (all that was missing was the ominous music). Her silly performance and the frequent use of this footage became comical. Second, the dialog in this film by the dumb girl is among the funniest in film history. Here is just one example:
Dumb Girl taking a sip of a spiked drink--"Gee this tastes funny". Sleazy Guy--"Don't worry--just drink it". Dumb Girl--"Okay". (as she sucks down a mickey).
With dialog like that, is it very surprising that again and again this idiot gets in trouble and nearly loses her inheritance?
Now understand that the Dumb Girl doesn't get all the rotten dialog--there's plenty for others as well. Such as when the doctor is called because the Dumb Girl's sister is "in a bad way" after using pot. When her mother asks the doctor how the girl is, he declares "she's a hopeless psychopath"--all because of the evils of marijuana!!
Sadly, there might have been a good reason to make such a film--after all, drugs do make people really stupid and ruin a lot of lives. But this film is so anti-marijuana that is tells us that it is much worse than heroin or pills. This over-statement might have potentially encouraged kids to avoid the dreaded pot and stick with "safer" drugs, like morphine, heroin or god knows what!! My assumption, though, is that most pot-heads just watched the film for a good laugh.
"Assassin of Youth" aka "The Marijuana Menace" is a cheap exploitation
movie, obviously filmed quickly with low-paid actors. However, unlike
the worst of such films of the era, there are some legitimate acting
talents in this one. The lovely Luana Walters, who in my opinion should
have become a much bigger star in Hollywood, has substance and screen
presence while being able to actually act. Despite her talents she was
often wasted in typical Hollywood fashion in low-budget westerns simply
because she had some genuine horsemanship ability, having grown up
around horses. Its sad that the movie industry has used and thrown away
so many talents for such superficial reasons. Another cast member with
a long Hollywood career was the multi-talented Fay McKenzie, who
portrays the evil cousin with verve and impact. But in this movie you
mostly encounter laughably bad acting by unknown actors being handled
by the director in hurry-up fashion.
Another distinction of this particular exploitation movie is that marijuana is clearly portrayed as a threshold drug and not a "Deadly Narcotic" as is so forcefully stated in bold headline letters in the ridiculous and preachy "Reefer Madness". Marijuana is portrayed here as being used to introduce youth to hard drugs, and the hard drugs are being purveyed by hardened organized career criminals, as they were then and still are today.
So this film is old, cheap, bad and all that. But it has a few redeemable qualities that made it at least watchable for me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A yummy satirical romance with a significant cast, Luana Walters, Fay
McKenzie, Dorothy Short. Fern Emmett and Dwire contribute funny roles,
and one should acknowledge the director's knowledge in giving these two
characters the places they deserved, that is in handling a well
structured script. The major drive of the show is the light, satirical,
delectable style. It took a crafty and knowledgeable director to handle
a satirical structure.
Luana and Dorothy are sisters, Fay is their cousin.
Luana has been the leading actress in a Lugosi serial, made before this movie, she's very distinguished and credible, avoiding any blandness that could of deflated her role here, instead of which she comes across as a dignified person.
A social drama, sharply satirical (hypocritical gossip and eagerness to calumniate being the other assassin of youth, the other weed), belonging to a genre of social awareness, and this one really doesn't glamorize its topic or make it seem appealing or lurid; it is, in fact, a satire, a satirical romance, and Elmer Clifton had a knack for allowing his players to be at ease, in terms of the dramatic structure. The moral stance is incriminating the smugglers of narcotic weed, but also the town's hypocrisy. The youngsters aren't idealized, either. Some of them belong to the racket, many are envious and scheming .
A very good movie, craftily directed by one of the genre's acknowledged classics, Elmer Clifton, one senses he was keen on making firstly a likable, yummy movie, so the achievement is this subversion: turning the sermon into a pretext for cinema.
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